2015-16: Our Year in Review
Our Year in Review
A guest column for the Herald Democrat by Dr. Wendy Wyman, Superintendent
It was a significant and exciting year for the Lake County School District. In our climb toward becoming a district of choice, this year we moved a little faster up the trail, and our packs felt just a little bit lighter. Our reforms are becoming ingrained as practice; more of our teachers are staying with us because of their commitment to our schools and our kids; and our schools are being recognized for the unique and wonderful places they are becoming. As is our tradition each summer, I want to take a moment to reflect on 2015-16 and share some of what we learned and where our focus lies in the year ahead.
- Academic rigor: A top strategic priority for the district is improving academic outcomes and ensuring that students are college and career ready when they graduate. Our principals and teachers are working extremely hard to provide rigorous instruction and on using student data to drive it. Though the impact of this work on standardized test scores like PARCC will take time, by working with nationally recognized partners and driving for a culture of excellence, we are doing the right work toward this outcome. Parents clearly see this change occurring, as well, as evidenced by our parent survey results.
- Teacher recruitment and retention: LCSD has been focusing on recruiting high quality educators who are a good fit for Leadville, and then retaining them. These efforts are paying off as our teacher turnover rate has declined significantly in two years, and projections for teacher retention for the 2016-17 school year are encouraging. For example, 100% of the 3rd-6th grade general and specials classroom teachers at LCIS have committed to return next year. District-wide, teachers’ self-reported plans for the following year, collected in a spring survey, are also improving.
- Administrative leadership: The district is making significant progress in developing an internal pipeline of principal candidates by training and mentoring them during their tenure as assistant principals. Our statewide reputation for reform and innovation is also impacting administrator hiring. There were many strong candidates for the high school principal opening this spring, all of whom had principal or assistant principal experience. The district was successful in hiring Ben Cairns, who has a significant reputation in the Denver metro area for leading increases in academic achievement as well as improvements in school culture. We are thrilled to welcome Ben to Lake County High School. Internally, Graciela Hess is transitioning from an Assistant Principal role at LCHS to fill the interim principal position at West Park Elementary, and long-time Lake County educator Kathleen Fitzsimmons is transitioning from a district-level Human Resources role to an Assistant Principal role at LCHS. The faculty and staff at Lake County Intermediate School are so proud of their school leader, Stephanie Gallegos, that they nominated her for a national leadership award given by Expeditionary Learning.
- State and National Awards for healthy and “green” school efforts: Our schools and students have won several prestigious awards for their efforts in this area. LCIS was named the healthiest school in the state in 2016 by a collaborative led by the Colorado Education Initiative and the Governor’s Office; West Park and LCHS also won awards. These awards reflect the schools’ efforts to provide healthier food and more physical movement. Required movement breaks at LCIS, for instance, have directly contributed to reducing behavior referrals. In addition, a group of fourth graders known as the Styrofoam Stoppers successfully worked with district administration, food service and the school board to ban Styrofoam from LCSD. Their work garnered a national award from the Environmental Protection Agency. Finally, all schools have robust recycling and composting programs up and running.
- District committees on diversity and bullying: We continue to work on diversity/cultural competence and bullying, as well as communicating about our work on both issues. We have active working groups on both topics that are developing plans to improve schools’ outcomes in both areas. In what we hope is a leading indicator, the number of students at LCHS who report being bullied at school decreased from 2014-15 to 2015-16 at both the high school and junior high school levels, according the Healthy Kids Colorado survey (which is only administered at the high school level). We have also created positions at all three schools for behavior coaches or assistant principals who are focused on motivating positive behavior and quickly addressing discipline concerns.
- College & career readiness: LCSD has started the Lake County Pre-Collegiate Program, which works with Lake County High School students who are interested in post-secondary education to achieve their goals and go on to two- and four-year colleges and universities. The high school’s partnership with CMC is strong, with many students taking advantage of dual enrollment courses. In 2016, three LCHS students received their Associates degree from CMC at the same time as their high school diploma. The school’s work with CMC this year also included a welding class offered to LCHS students in which they learned a marketable career skill as well as earning college credit.
- Expeditionary Learning implementation & impacts on culture and climate: Our strategy to turn around its schools has started with deep work to improve culture and climate in the schools. Expeditionary Learning has been a key partner in implementing systems and structures to promote character development and a sense of positive community. Parents and staff members both report anecdotally that the schools feel much different, and more positive, as these reforms take hold. The progress the district is making in creating a welcoming school environment is also evident in our parent survey results.
- Parent & community outreach: Three years ago, we knew that improving our communication with parents and the community was a key priority. Since then, we have implemented a new website; a strong social media presence; an annual update to the community; Sunday night phone calls from each school to parents; bi-annual Parent Summits with the Board of Education using a new format; and more regular communication from schools. Data from the district’s parent survey confirm that these efforts are paying off.
- School-Based Health Center: In the fall of 2015, LCSD opened a School-Based Health Center at Lake County High School in partnership with the Summit Community Care Clinic. Students and their families, as well as staff members and their families, now have access to medical, dental and behavioral health services within the district. Services are also provided without requiring a co-pay, making care both more affordable and more accessible.
- The Arts: LCSD’s visual arts, music and drama programs are bright spots in its academic performance. Students at the high school level are regularly winning awards for their efforts, and the high-quality work being produced in drama, band and choir productions, as well as the visual arts, is very evident. We were thrilled to see many community members this year at our various music concerts this year, as well as our drama department’s outstanding production of Beauty & the Beast.
- New playgrounds at LCIS & West Park: Community agencies and volunteers have come together in the past two years and have partnered with the district to renovate one playground and raise the funds to renovate a second. This strong support and partnership has been an excellent model that has allowed capital improvements for children that the district would not have been able to fund on its own.
This year we have felt a distinct shift in the community’s optimism about and support for our work to make Lake County schools an outstanding choice for local families. We feel the wind at our back that is an entire community pulling for our schools and our students. To those of you who reached out to us this year with words of advice, support or affirmation, we thank you. And if you have feedback about our work that you haven’t provided, I invite you to share it with us directly. Thank you for a great 2015-16, and see you in the fall!